Visible Speech

Wayne Smith wayne at MRLANGUAGE.COM
Tue Sep 23 11:54:43 UTC 2003

Sandy and the list -
     In a sense, this has been done already.  Melville Bell, Alexander's
father, developed a notational system for speech called Visible Speech.
Theoretically it demonstrated the position of the various speech organs,
etc.  It was at one time used to teach speech to Deaf children, and was even
used (unsuccessfully, I think) to teach speech in Chinese about 110 years
ago, introduced into the "Chefoo" (Qufu) School for the Deaf by its founder,
Annetta Thompson Mills, wife of an American Presbyterian Missionary.  I'm
sure a quick web search would produce info on the system.
        - Wayne in Maine

> How about a SignWriting-style notation for oral languages?
> This would show the roof of the mouth, jaw, teeth &c to indicate how a
> is produced. I've attached a crude first-attempt sketch of the word
> to give you an idea. It's a cross-section through the mouth, assuming that
> the mouth is always symmetrical when speaking. You see the use of the
> "contact" symbol in "th" and "ng", and I've used the "strike" symbol for
> sudden release of air in "k". I've used a wiggle "~" to indicate
> so in "a" the vocal chords are vibrating and in "ng" both the vocal cords
> and nasal cavity are vibrating. Other sounds would need lips and dental
> ridge and suchlike to be drawn.
> The hardest thing to figure out is how to distinguish different vowels,
> someone who really understands the linguists' "anvil" diagram for vowels
> should be able to figure it out!
> I suppose the diagram would have to be drawn bigger to show the shape and
> position of the tongue properly, so it's probably not practical as a
> system. But on the other hand it can show some subtleties such as the fact
> that the tongue turns up slightly in "th" which might help people who are
> just learning the language.
> I bet this has either been thought of before, or it's fatally flawed...!
> Sandy

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